In the “Jungle” camp in Calais, just like in slums all over the world, businesses have emerged to respond to a need. Most of us would consider easy access to shops to purchase everyday essentials as an absolute necessity – something we take for granted. Camp residents in Calais have created a micro-economy to allow themselves to have some degree of normality in incredibly difficult circumstances and amidst grossly sub-standard living conditions.
The nearest shop is over a mile from the camp. No one has a car and very few people have bicycles. Leaving camp at any time can be incredibly dangerous, refugees run the very real risk of being subject to fascist attacks as soon as they leave camp and, with incidents of police brutality reported regularly, it is quite clear to see the purpose served by small businesses within the “Jungle” itself. Many camp residents are vulnerable – women, young children, unaccompanied minors, injured and the elderly – and these groups are especially at risk outside of the confines of the unofficial camp.
Restaurants offer somewhere warm and dry when the weather is bad and temperature drops below freezing, somewhere to drink a cup of hot sweet tea when you have run out of firewood or milk, somewhere to charge a phone to speak to a family member thousands of miles away, somewhere to find a sense of community and psychological support in the most hopeless, desolate place, away from the rodents in the camp and the hatred outside of it.
Many establishments provide free food for vulnerable people. The Jungle Books Kids restaurant served a free, nutritious hot meal to 200 accompanied minors (aged 8-18) every day, for example. It has been shut down since Monday. The knock-on effect this has on the most vulnerable community in the camp is evident. Establishments also provide a little money for those who work for them, who might otherwise have nothing, having spent everything they had escaping conflict and making the perilous journey across the world in search of safety and refuge.
We were disappointed to hear that when the 60 CRS (riot police) officers entered the camp and raided the small shops and restaurants this week they took a number of bags belonging to those who were inside, containing passports, immigration papers and other important documents. So far four individuals have reported that when they visited the police station to reclaim these items later, as they had been instructed to do, officers at the station claimed no knowledge of them. Having no documentation or proof of identity whatsoever renders the life of these refugees still more difficult and could lead to complications in asylum procedures. In the photo accompanying this post you can see a CRS officer taking time-out for a selfie in the camp in between raids.
Over the past 11 months spent working in the Calais camp we have no recorded incidents where a refugee, donor, volunteer, employee or visitor has reported an illness or any other negative experience resulting from sub-standard sanitation or hygiene in the restaurants or shops. On the contrary, these establishments are highly regarded, trusted and viewed as vital community spaces by camp residents and visitors alike.
To donate to support our work in Calais please click here https://mydonate.bt.com/
photo credit long term volunteer Geoff Moyter
We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.
Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!